November 25, 2005

Repository warning

In the Times Higher this week (Nov 25th) I saw the following short piece quoting the Royal Society:-

The push for researchers to make their papers available free online via open-access journals and repositories could be "disastrous", according to a statement released this week by the Royal Society. The Research Councils are consulting on plans to encourage scientists to embrace the open access model. But the Society has called for them to undertake a proper study first. The statement says "The worst-case scenario is that funders could force a rapid change in practice, which encourages the introduction of new journals, archives and repositories which cannot be sustained in the long term, but which simultaneously force the closure of existing peer reviewed journals that have a long track record".

Repositories are an interesting idea. In principle, collecting the research output of your institution and making it available to interested parties – your own staff, your students, other universities, researchers, the press – seems like an appealing idea. But it's hard to find examples of universities which have implemented repositories which have grown into large-scale, impressive content collections. And it's easy to find institutions with repositories which are empty, or nearly empty, or contain content which dates back to the first flush of enthusiasm for the idea, but not much since then.

So there must be counter-balancing factors which mean that even though it could be a good idea institutionally, that doesn't translate into a widely adopted practice. Why not? Perhaps there isn't enough benefit to the individuals who create the research in exchange for the effort of submitting it. Perhaps the rights management turns out to be harder than expected in some cases. Maybe the benefits aren't that much greater than just publishing those bits of your research that you want to on your existing institutional web site (or your blog!).

But a great big rock could be thrown on to one side of the scale; if the Research Councils make it a condition of funding that publications must be placed into an institutional repository, then the inconvenience to individuals, or the question of how useful the repository actually is, just get completely overruled, and whether you wanted to or not, whether you thought it was valuable or not, you'd do it. Hence, presumably, the Royal Society's anxiety.

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Robert O'Toole

    I suspect that a big factor in the emptiness of repositories is the lack of prestige involved in getting work into them. Academics like the idea of struggling to get work published in a carefully peer reviewed journal. And in return, reading work published within them offers some guarantee of quality. But a repository? Who cares?

    29 Nov 2005, 19:05

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